Harley-Davidson has unveiled its first all-new platform in 13 years to underpin the Street 500 and Street 750 motorcycles. These lean bikes target urban riders, with a design that evokes café racers from the brand’s heritage, while emphasizing elements tailored to city riding.
The low-ride height, broad handle bars, and new suspension are meant to make stoplight riding easier, including absorbing potholes and weaving through the concrete jungle.
An all-new 60-degree, liquid-cooled V-Twin "Revolution X" should add to the nimbleness and contributes the affordability, key in drawing younger and less-affluent riders to the fold. The liquid-cooled engine is teamed with a six-speed transmission and routes power to the rear 15-inch wheel via belt. The wet weight is just 480 lbs.—80 lbs. less than a Sportster SuperLow.
In the past couple of years, Harley has intentionally tried to draw next-generation riders to the brand, a marketing goal that struck me as being at odds with its emphasis on 1970s-era candy paint and premium prices. Just as we have seen other motorcycle companies go after new and returning riders with affordable, yet stylish, bikes—such as the Star Bolt ($7,999) and Honda CTX700N ($6,999)—Harley has wisely followed suit by developing a bike line for this underserved audience. Their best previous offering for this market was the Sportster, an $8,249 rolling history lesson, with a basic design that spans decades and still doesn’t capture the presence typically associated with larger Harleys. (See the updated 2014 Harley-Davidson motorcycles.)
Here, we find the brand’s essence crafted into a new mold. Launching with the bikes in Dark Custom trim—meaning black-out treatment and ample attitude—should heighten its appeal to those who didn’t live through the 1970s. However, arguably, if new riders are the target, some color to make the bike more visible could only aid safety. Antilock brakes would be, likewise, welcomed.
Starting at $6,700, the Street 500 bikes undercut key rivals in the Bolt, V Star Custom ($6,990), and Honda Shadow ($8,240). Even the Street 750 at $7,500 is aggressively priced. Of course, slim margins on these bikes could still lead to big dividends from the inevitable merchandise mountain these new enthusiasts will acquire, and Harley is quick to say there will be accessories galore for personalizing. Of course, there is also the hope that a Street rider will one day move up to a bigger bike.
Further details are slim at this point, but the concept sure is promising. Ultimately, Harleys sell on their heritage, rumble, patriotism, and lifestyle—a combination competing brands struggle against. As we saw in our motorcycle reliability survey, Harleys may not be the most reliable, but there is a very high satisfaction among owners.
Built in Kansas City, the Street bikes will go on sale in the United States in the spring, just in time for the next riding season. I hope rival Victory is watching this strategy and looking to make entering its cruiser line more affordable, too. Likewise, can a Bolt 650 be far behind?
These are good days indeed for riders looking for small and midsized bikes.
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